Representatives of a Berkeley medical marijuana dispensary vowed Wednesday to fight a property forfeiture lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors last week.
"We intend to vigorously defend the rights of our patients and the citizens of Berkeley to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, licensed dispensary," Sean Luse, the chief operating officer of the Berkeley Patients Group, told Bay City News.
The defense comes after the local United States Attorney filed suit last week against the landlord of Berkeley Patients Group, the East Bay city's largest medical cannabis dispensary and one of the biggest in the Bay Area,
The lawsuit, filed May 2 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag, seeks to seize the San Pablo Avenue retail space owned by Nahla Droubi of Moraga.
The property can be seized under drug forfeiture laws because while California law allows the medical use of marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law. The forfeiture lawsuit is part of a crackdown announced by Haag and the other three regional U.S. attorneys in California in 2011.
BPG has had issues like this before. The dispensary closed and then moved down the street last year after the landlord receiving a letter from Haag's office warning of a forfeiture action if the dispensary was not shut down.
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based marijuana advocacy group, said the new case is one of about 20 currently active forfeiture lawsuits against California dispensaries.
But Hermes said at least several hundred other medical marijuana stores in California have closed since 2011 because of threats of such lawsuits.
Another of the pending lawsuits is one filed last year against Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the state's largest dispensary.
The state's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215, protects seriously ill patients who have a doctor's recommendation from being prosecuted under state law for using marijuana as medicine.
But federal laws criminalizing marijuana make no exception for state medical marijuana laws.
The new lawsuit was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Nathaniel Cousins of San Francisco and is scheduled for a status conference on July 31.
Luse said the dispensary will keep operating while the case is ongoing.
The Berkeley Patients Group, founded in 1999, is the oldest continuously operating medical marijuana dispensary in the Bay Area and serves more than 10,000 patients.
Bay City News contributed to this report.